A Question About the Death of the Lecture

It’s not something I follow closely, but every so often, I read posts about the supposed ‘death of the lecture’ (here’s one example and another here) that either argue for or against lecturing. Here’s what I find odd: as a ‘grownup’ scientist (i.e., not an undergraduate in a course), if I went to a seminar, and the speaker were to start to do a whole bunch of interactive shit, I would probably just get up and walk out. At this point, playing ‘Simon says’ isn’t how I want to spend my day.

I realize there’s a lot of self-selection here: outside of the classroom, scientific presentations are given in seminar format, so if you don’t like that format, your odds of sticking with academic science drop. Yet, it’s odd that the lecture is disparaged for one audience (students) and all-pervasive for another (working scientists).


This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A Question About the Death of the Lecture

  1. canalon says:

    As a Ph.D. preparing to enter into the field of High school education I feel for your thought on the lectures. They are derided a lot, but I feel they can be very useful. However I think that your parallel between education and scientific conferences/seminars is a bit wrong. The aim in lectures is very different. For a seminar the lecturer shares scientific results to make people aware of them. They might need those or not, they might be interested or not. Usually if they are interested they might contact the lecturer one way or another later.
    In education, you want to have the students remember what you taught them. You are not just informing them on facts. And for that the lecture might not be the most efficient way to convey your information. This is where alternate ways of teaching might very well be superior.

  2. EvoStevo says:

    I think cananlon has struck at the root of the issue. The main objectives of a scientific seminar and a classroom ‘lecture’ are slightly divergent. The lecture is an efficient way for the speaker to disseminate what s/he knows, but it is not an efficient or complete way to learn. Although it can be *part* of the learning process. Learn once. Watch once. Do once.

  3. CC says:

    For the professional, you are not learning how to do something. You are there to here about (usually) new results and findings. You are aware of the mechanics and you speak the language that the same professional uses.

    For the student, we as teachers want to train them to be the next professional (or at the very least at the HS level, have them appreciate the work and findings of the field). Listening at this point is not the desired outcome. We want students to be able to do and to reason. There are times were lecture is important (here are the steps that I’ve found to be most efficient) but long term results stem from students doing work for themselves. Finding the balance of lecture and lab is the difficult trick when state and/or CCSS provide 10 pounds of content that they’d like you to get into a 5 pound year…

    When teaching teachers, I find that it is important to model how to teach because many of us were and are successful with listening to others knowledge (understanding IS our chosen profession) and seeing how students can learn the content as part of a process is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Especially with unwilling students and standardized tests and well, you’ve been writing abut that issue recently, haven’t you MTMB? =)

  4. CC says:

    Crap, there are a lot of spelling error up there. I apologize.

  5. JGB says:

    Learning material from lecture is a skill (which means interestingly enough that doing less of it only makes students worse at getting material that way hello self fulfilling prophecy), as mentioned above it is not the most efficient way to master all material, the doing and practicing are also important. However a well executed lecture can do things for understanding that are hard to do in any other format. Big picture overviews for example. Nuanced connections between subjects is also another area. Even doing problems is not always best. It is often possible to plug and chug through problems with minimal understanding. The death of the lecture is horribly over promoted by people trying to justify their education PhD work and/or the Ed reformer (why focus on getting students to learn, when I can get paid to tell adults how to do their job better). One helpful tip is to drop the power point whenever possible in lectures. It adds an extra level of cues that cause students to think even less. I like to chalk talk I feel it is a little easier to pull the audience in then.

    • canalon says:

      I agree with that. And I think that teachers have to prepare students to learn from lecture just they have to learn from other methods. So we need to use lectures, we need to teach them how to take meaningful notes during a lecture and we need to model that for them to prepare them to later in life.

  6. sciliz says:

    Haven’t you ever seen a Q and A format with a panel of awesome people at a conference? Even for the highest level technical stuff, even for the most distinguished researchers, even for people who I would LOVE to hear give a 4 hour lecture nonstop (because they do have that much to say that is awesome)… there are better formats. Really.

    • canalon says:

      There are different formats. Not one is perfect. The problem of the lecture is not that it is always bad, as said above there are times where it is perfectly appropriate, but that it had for a long time been the almost unique way to share knowledge. Now we know that there are other methods. They have their own advantages and drawbacks, and each situation (audience, aim, cost, time, who is available,…) should be assessed, and then you can chose in what way you can convey your information. Having people able to use the different techniques is good.
      But during my PhD I was never taught how to teach. When I first taught I did what I had always seen during my time, I lectured. Now I went to teacher college, I have learned about a large number of different methods, and when I prepare classes I can change my method of delivery. I still do a bit of lecturing. Powerpoint and the ilk can be wonderful tools to show things that I would not be able to draw (or lead to dreary stuff too). And often I use other ways to get the students to the point where I want them to go.
      So the death of the lecture is not its death, just the beginning of it starting to have to share the limelight. It is a good thing.

  7. DBP says:

    As a current student, I think there are benefits to both. I think the more interactive formats are useful for developing skills in students. I have/had a professor that teaches what is basically a statistics class in pure lecture form. The only time we did the math was on quizzes or exams. No homework or classwork, just lectures and test.

    I have a professor that does the “simon says” type interaction and those are fucking awful. I hate that professor with a passion. I do not need to be doing popcorn reading and watching the gangam style video in a graduate level course. I do not need a hug whenever a sad topic comes up.

    There are good ways to do interactive stuff and good interactive stuff can make a potentially awful class great. Philosophy classes are terrible if they are just lectures. Getting the class to discuss the ideas and material makes them a wonderful experience.

  8. kaleberg says:

    I have to agree, but I grew up learning how to learn from lectures and from textbooks. A lot of students these days aren’t very good at learning from either which is a pity. I’m not sure interaction really makes all that much of a difference. I would find more than a bit of it tedious and annoying, as it would make it harder for me to learn from the presentation if I had to prepare responses and the like.

    (DBP notes that he or she never gets to do the math during lectures. Is this because the teacher isn’t presenting the math? I always do the math as I follow along which is another reason I would rather not be bothered with clicking an answer button.)

Comments are closed.